|“Going Green” Farming Business Relies Heavily On Conservation|
"Going Green" means different things to different people. To Michael Pack of Pack’s Nursery near Boaz, in rural North Alabama, the bottom line is to do things that improve the environment, one step at a time. The Pack family farming operation does just that. It is a third generation business paying strict attention to soil and water conservation on over 300 acres of Sand Mountain soil.
The Packs specialize in growing nursery plants that include an assortment of shrubs, trees and ornamentals which are the core of their "Going Green" operations. According to Pack, they plant what grows best in the well-drained sandy loam soil.
"We like the results we get from using the sloping Sand Mountain land," Michael pointed out.
A major part of their farming operation is their conservation plan. Michael grew up hearing about a farm conservation plan which is a combination of land uses and farming practices that protect and improve soil productivity and water quality, and prevent deterioration of natural resources on all or part of a farm. In fact, he remembers his dad, G.C. Pack, insisted that conservation receive major attention.
"Dad would only sparingly and cautiously let us use farm machinery that disrupted soil structure," Michael said.
"That was 40 years ago, long before ‘minimum tillage,’ which today is hailed as largely responsible for a major reduction in erosion on Sand Mountain soil," the seasoned conservationist said.
Since sloping land is highly susceptible to erosion, over the years the Packs have engaged in nursery production, they have continuously majored in building terraces and establishing vegetative waterways and field borders to lessen the bad effects of erosion.
"Actually, soil and water conservation is just as important, and maybe more so, to our operations today as it was 40 years ago," Michael mused.
Pack stated, for the most part, their operation spreads fertilizer by hand and uses a one-row International tractor with a micro-mister to spray for weeds and pests as needed.
James Huber, a technician with the DeKalb Soil and Water Conservation District, helped the Packs design and implement their conservation practices. He said the Packs’ fields are always "neat as a pin," clear of weeds, plowed on the contour and managed to ensure the nursery plants, not weeds, get the nutrients from applied fertilizer as well as the benefits of water.
The Packs do not irrigate their fields. They rely on rainwater to stimulate growth in the nursery plants, thus making the control of water run-off especially important. Field terraces, field borders and waterways are planted with grasses which cover the designated areas with sod protecting the soil from erosion further.
The nursery plants are started from cuttings taken by the Packs and placed in cups filled with a mixture of sand and pine bark. The cups are then kept in cold frames until they reach a height of six-12 inches, depending on variety. Generally it takes from four to six years to grow a cutting to a marketable-sized shrub. Trees usually take longer.
From start to finish of the growth cycle, the nursery plants are carefully scrutinized and sprayed for insects and diseases.
"Our biggest problems are caused by spider mites and scales," Michael said.
Improving their operations is a continuous goal of the Packs. As the seasons change, so do the jobs, like pruning, digging, harvesting and fertilizing plants. Their busiest time is spring.
While the Packs use both wholesale and retail market outlets, the majority of their ornamental plants are shipped to Memphis, Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn. Some however go as far away as Oklahoma.
Now in its third generation of operations, the Pack farming business includes the children of Michael and his brother, Chris. Working in the family business is the only job Chris and grandson, Shane, have ever had.
"Getting more trees and shrubs planted is our way of helping the environment; it’s our way of ‘Going Green,’" Michael pointed out.
Cecil Gant is a Coordinator with Sand Mountain-Lake Guntersville Watershed.